Why is my patient with systemic amyloidosis at higher risk of bleeding?

The major mechanism of bleeding tendency in primary systemic amyloidosis (AL) appears to revolve around amyloid deposit infiltration of the vasculature and musculature, leading to amyloid angiopathy, fragility, impaired vasoconstriction, tears and hemorrhage. 1,2 Other potential mechanisms include:

  • Presence of plasma inhibitors of fibrinogen conversion to fibrin
  • Deficiencies of factor X, IX and V due to their affinity for amyloid substance
  • Presence of circulating heparin-like anticoagulants
  • Uremic platelet dysfunction in the presence of renal involvement

In a study involving 36 patients with AL, ~30% had bleeding symptoms with alterations of 1 or more clotting tests found in ~85%: prolonged prothrombin time (PT) ratio (22%), activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT) (65%) and thrombin time (85%).

Clinical manifestations of amyloidosis related to its bleeding diathesis include petechiae, ecchymoses, purpura (“raccoon eyes when periorbital), uncontrollable epistaxis, gingival bleeding, and gastrointestinal bleed or submucosal hematomas. 1-6

Due to its convenience and relative safety, a biopsy of abdominal fat or minor salivary glands is often initially performed for definitive diagnosis of amyloidosis, followed by biopsy of specific organs (eg, kidney, liver), if needed. 3,6

Due to the potential risk of bleeding complications, transjugular liver biopsy is preferred over percutaneous approach. This is because the liver capsule is not perforated with transjugular liver biopsy and if bleeding occurs, the blood returns directly into the venous system rather than into the peritoneum. 7-8 

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that AL amyloidosis is the most common type of systemic amyloidosis in western countries? This is because the incidence of the other major type of amyloidosis (AA), often related to chronic infections or inflammatory diseases, has been dropping in these countries.3

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  1. Gamba G, Montani N, Anesi E, et al. Clotting alterations in primary systemic amyloidosis. Haematologica 2000;85:289-92. https://moh-it.pure.elsevier.com/en/publications/clotting-alterations-in-primary-systemic-amyloidosis
  2. Marconcini LAL, Stewart FM, Sonntag L, et al. AL amyloidosis complicated by persistent oral bleeding. Case Reports in Hematology 2015, Article ID 981346. https://www.hindawi.com/journals/crihem/2015/981346/
  3. Desport E, Bridoux F, Sirac C, et al. AL Amyloidosis. Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases 2012, 7:54. https://ojrd.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1750-1172-7-54
  4. Yoshii S, Mabe K, Nosho K, et al. Submucosal hematoma is a highly suggestive finding for amyloid light-chain amyloidosis: Two case reports. W J Gastroenterol 2012;4:434-37. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23125904
  5. Kon T, Nakagawa N, Yoshikawa F, et al. Systemic immunoglobulin light-chain amyloidosis presenting hematochezia as the initial symptoms. Clin J Gastroenterol 2016;9:243. http://europepmc.org/article/med/27318996
  6. Petre S, Shah IA, Gilani N. Review article:gastrointestinal amyloidosis-clinical features, diagnosis and therapy. Alim Pharmacol Ther 2008;27:1006-16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18363891
  7. Grant A, Neuberger J. Guidelines on the use of liver biopsy in clinical practice. Gut 1999;45(Suppl IV):IV1-IV11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10485854
  8. Dohan A, Guerrache Y, Boudiaf M, et al. Transjugular liver biopsy: Indications, technique and results. Diagnostic and Interventional Imaging 2014;95:11-15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24007769
Why is my patient with systemic amyloidosis at higher risk of bleeding?

How should I interpret a positive result for serum cryoglobulins?

Cryoglobulins (CGs) are immunoglobulins that precipitate in the blood under cold conditions (<37◦ C) and redissolve upon warming1.  The term “cryoglobulinemia” is commonly used to describe patients with a systemic inflammatory syndrome that is often associated with small-to-medium vessel vasculitis due to cryoglobulin-containing immune complexes. Although some patients with cryoglobulinemia may be asymptomatic, most present with a range of diseases characterized by fatigue, arthralgia, skin rashes or necrosis, purpura, neuropathy, bowel wall ischemia and/or glomerulonephritis and kidney failure.

Wintrobe and Buell are credited for first describing cryglobulinemia in 1933 when assessing a patient who ultimately was found to have multiple myeloma2. Since then the spectrum of diseases associated with CG has expanded to also include seemingly disparate conditions such as hepatitis C, autoimmune disorders and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS).  A commonly cited classification scheme for CG is shown (Table)3.   It should be emphasized that some CGs may not fit neatly into this scheme.

In our patient, the positive CG serum test should be interpreted in the clinical context in which it was obtained while searching for risk factors as well as signs and symptoms that may be associated with cryoglobulinemia.


Table. Classification of cryoglobulinemia

Category Description Examples
Type I Isolated monoclonal immunoglobulin, either IgM or IgG (less commonly IgA or free immunoglobulin light chains Multiple myeloma, Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia, monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS)
Type II Mixture of monoclonal IgM and polyclonal IgG Hepatitis C, HIV, other viral infections
Type III Polyclonal mixture IgM and IgG Autoimmune disorders, hepatitis C


  1. Takada S, Shimizu T, Hadano Y, et al. Cryoglobulinemia (review). Mol Med Rep 2012;6:3-8
  2. Wintrobe MM, Buell MV. Hyperproteinemia associated with multiple myeloma. Bull Johns Hopkins Hosp 52: 156-165, 1933
  3. Brouet JC, Clauvel JP, Danon F, et al. Biological and clinical significance of cryoglobulins. Am J Med 1974; 57:775-88.


Contributed by Kirstin Scott, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School

How should I interpret a positive result for serum cryoglobulins?